Behaviour – beyond compliance – a personal viewpoint / ramble
There are a lot of behaviour gurus out there, some offering genuinely good advice and others with very slick and entertaining stage shows that lack any real substance. This is a personal account of what I have found works for me. I feel immensely privileged that within my various roles I still teach regularly, observed by others, and can be in a failing inner city comprehensive one day and a top performing independent school the next. We have to take our students on a journey they may be reluctant to go on, armed with only the force of our personality! That is a serious challenge! I have taught in some of the toughest schools on the planet, sometimes successfully, at other times failing miserably. Failure is always a learning experience and my last nine years of teaching as an AST in challenging schools was filled with many of these. There were also those days where you walk out of the classroom buzzing, knowing why you are a teacher; a feeling you can’t explain to those who have never felt it – those who often decide educational policy!
Turning around failing schools is not rocket science, it’s very hard work. You need to change an embedded culture of anti learning. One model is to follow the way that the New York Subway System was reclaimed in the 1980s – identifying the ‘broken window syndrome; where if one window is broken and not fixed then all the windows would be subsequently broken. The carriages were covered in graffiti, a clear indication of lawlessness and this was the first priority to fix. The strategy was interesting: they found that the graffiti artists/vandals (use whichever fits your viewpoint) would take 3 days. The first day they would paint the carriages white then build up their artwork over the next 2 days. They were not prevented from doing this, instead as soon as they had finished the work it was painted over, thus demoralising them. They were not preventing them from wrongdoing, they were preventing them from benefitting from wrongdoing. No car covered in graffiti was allowed back into service. Not letting miscreants benefit from their bad behaviour can be more effective than trying to prevent them doing it. Think the torture of the Grinch when he realised that stealing the presents hadn’t affected the happiness of the town
Another example in New York was fare dodging which was endemic: when others were clearly getting away without paying the temptation was to do it yourself. A very visible system of punishment was created with fare dodgers daisy chained together on the platform and processed in a bus parked outside the station. No windows left broken; rules that are enforced clearly and consistently undeniably work and can lead to compliance and hence control is regained. Is it simply compliance we want in the classroom though? It is possible to make a dog come towards you by offering a treat and move away from him by kicking it, what is much harder is to get the dog to obey you without these extrinsic drivers..Reward and threat can give us the behaviour we want to see, but is this enough? I want my students to behave because they understand that it is the right thing to do, not from a fear of the consequences or a rote response. Students misbehave because their needs are not being met. The behaviour may not be the problem, it may be their way of dealing with a problem. Should we be ignoring their needs and just deal with the symptoms rather than trying to find a cure?
I am sure I am not alone in admitting that I am often probably the most disruptive influence in my classroom. When they are all quietly getting on with work I get bored. I hated teaching in a school where the students worked in silence. I wanted to know their hopes, dreams and fears, what motivated them. I teach young people first and the subject second and find that showing a genuine interest in them pays dividends in their behaviour and performance. By building relationships, I could use the most powerful weapon of all – disappointment. We reflect anger but disappointment is crushing (I can still remember the sad look on my much loved Biology teacher Mr Woodward’s face when I hadn’t done my homework!) I hope I have been a good role model by showing those with challenging home lives how to build genuine caring relationships. The teachers who influenced me most and had a lasting impact on my life were not the most efficient ones, they were the ones with a passion who were not afraid to show their humanity.
We can create systems that force compliance. We can make students stand up as we enter the room to ‘show respect’. These systems of rules tend to have the opposite effect on me personally and bring out my subversive side, honed in my own traditional grammar school education that bored me to distraction. I was very successful at decoding exam papers and that was all that was required to be ‘successful’ with very little effort nor in depth thinking taking place (hence the shallow person I am today!) Reactance – What would you do when faced with this photo?
Why the compulsion to do what it tells us not to? We suffer from reactance which often compels us to break rules because we have lost the right to choose. an interesting study here suggests that raising the drinking age actually caused higher levels of underage drinking Reactance often causes us to act irrationally, particularly in those ‘difficult’ teenage years where our reaction to the nagging of our parents rarely was the way they intended, nor what was best for us. Yet somehow we expect our young charges to take notice of us! Some interesting research on reactance is here.
Evidently we need to make our rules purposeful, but rather than set rules I negotiate inviolable rights The right to be safe – mentally and physically The right to learn The right to be treated with respect These are then protected with rules We have the right to be safe so I will not endanger others We have the right to learn so I will not interfere with the learning of others We have the right to be treated with respect so I will respect others This is pretty much a catch all – you will only fall out with me if you break any of these 3 rules, but you will always fall out with me if you do. This also allows us to deal with the students talking when we are by challenging them with “if you were talking to me and I started talking to someone else, would I be treating you with respect?” They can’t answer ‘yes’, so you point out they have broken the rules and hence have lost the right to …. sit there/leave the lesson on time/other benefit. As opposed to getting into the argument ‘ I was talking about the work ….’
I never talk about work in my lessons, always learning. I’m not impressed with pages of notes that have no meaning to the student or the copied and pasted stuff they seem to consider as good enough.
As the students come in I smile at them firing up their mirror neurones Using brain imaging, scientists have explored the areas of the brain that are activated when we see another person smile. Of course, you’d expect the visual areas of the brain to light up. But other areas of the brain light up too, including the premotor cortex, an area that helps activate our own smiling muscles and the somatosensory and insula cortices, areas that report what it feels like physically and emotionally to smile. Neurons that fire both when we observe and when we take part in an action are called mirror neurons. When we see someone smile, mirror neurons simulate our own smiling. Does this simulation or reenactment help us to understand what another person is feeling? Full article here Similarly if you frown at your class you will get them mirroring unhappiness back at you – that doesn’t seem worth it to me!
I now attempt to analyse my class to identify and work with any threats, using a not very scientific version of Mclellands Theory of needs . This is a very imprecise technique but it seems to work for me. It is very easy to label students and then use confirmation bias to see what you expect to see, so please use with caution and forgive me for gross generalisations. We have three basic needs according to Mclelland. The need to achieve, affiliate with others and to have some power. I’m looking for the individuals who have a major need for power. I watch their body language as they enter the room: some will be making themselves small, these are unlikely to be threats. Others will have wide open stances and hold eye contact for a little longer than the rest, it is within this group that there is likely to be the possible threats.
Achievers have a key driver of being successful. I divide them into two broad categories: Quiet achievers : groups of girls who tend to sit near the front and never say anything. The ones I used to feel guilty about for never giving them enough attention or knowing anything about them when parents evening came (and their parents always came!) Individual boys who often would be sneered at by the others for the crime of trying hard. These types are not threats, but are often very needy and can dislike independent learning tasks.
Noisy achievers: spotted as soon as the first question is asked as they shout out or wave frantically at you. These can be the most annoying kids on the planet, often the offspring of the most annoying parents on the planet. These can destroy your lessons by dominating questioning. They are often deeply unpopular with their classmates but are completely unaware of this. Using ‘pose pause pounce bounce’ outlined by @teachertoolkit here and Dylan Wiliam below. I target them first and regularly come back to them.
Affiliates: By far the largest group, these may well be wearing the regulation Superdry/Hollister/Nike/Armani (delete as appropriate to the socioeconomic status of your school!) or the slight defiance to school uniform short fat tie etc. The haircut will also conform to the unofficial (hence far more likely to be adhered to) regulation norm. Being part of the group is far more important than being successful and if you have an embedded anti-learning, or that which I find worse, apathetic culture, then you have your work cut out. I remember as a clueless NQT admonishing the whole class with ‘if you carry on like this you will all fail!’ Thus bonding them together to fail as one with all the nonsensical rationale that only teenagers can muster.
Power People: This group hold status as the most important driver. These have the potential to be a threat, either in terms of behaviour or in turning the class against me or my teaching methods. If they are a personal power person they tend just to want to fight and have little influence on the others. Group power people have the potential to lead the affiliates and hence every lesson can turn into a battle over the allegiance of the affiliates. Male power people: tend to be alpha males and will enter your room noisily. Falling out with males rarely is a long term issue and tends not to extend to their friends who can be marvellously disloyal. Female power people: tend to be those that are the most extreme in dress – the brightest orange/shortest skirt/most makeup/biggest hair/other extreme feature! However, it is the number of social interactions which really hold the key to their power. Falling out with these can create an enemy for life and one with a hugely loyal army who also hate you unreservedly! Sometimes there is little you can do apart from damage limitation and wait for them to leave! How to deal effectively with these power people in the longer-term, I’ll leave for another blog. However if their status depends entirely on how well they perform in your classroom and they are not naturally gifted at your subject then you will tend to suffer. By being aware and dealing with these different drivers we can create a classroom climate where the needs of the individual students are being met. Seek to understand, then to be understood and you can create self regulating students better equipped to deal with the world .
These are some resources and blogs that I have found useful The first person who ever seemed to give me stuff that worked was Bill Roger,s the ever reliable Tom Sherrington @headguruteacher has a great summary blog here Sarah Findlater @Msfindlater has got some useful links on her excellent Pinterest account here Ross McGill @teachertoolkit has some useful stuff as always including the 5 minute behaviour plan available here